My Wednesday post on South Dakota's correctional system received a very intelligent and probing comment from my friend Shane Gerlach, who can speak with some experience as to the failings of our methods of dealing with those who break the law. For those of you who don't venture into the comments section, I promote his commentary in full here:
so here's the deal Corey...Please PLEASE find one correctional counselor with a counseling degree...please. If you do I will buy you the beverage of your choice.
Recidvism is ridiculous in this state because there is no rehabilitiation. Change must come from within certainly but BUT many of these men and women need and desire guidance and help.
Part time farmers, small business owners, promoted guards posing as counselors and a very overwhelmed and out numbered staff are not the help needed.
I broke my cycle...it can be done; but I had the advantage of suportive family and friends, an education, willpower and a solid release plan. I was way WAY ahead of the curve.
When we stop treating sicknesses as diseases (addictions and mental illness) our prison population will drop.
BTW Corey...where besides prison can one find a state sponsered treatment program?!?!?!?!?! You know for people who can't afford treatment but want...NEED....help?
Punishment has won the war over Rehabilitation. We are reaping exactly what we sowed. Prison has become a business that is profitable to this state. Who wired the schools? Who builds the cabins for the state parks? Who builds the Govenors houses? Who fights forrest fires? Who does disaster clean up? Who ran the state farm? Who work for 25 cents an hour for the DOT, Counties (including the Yankton Library) and other entities?
Prisoners. The correction system is nothing but a machine with a HUGE revolving door.
Hit me up some time I'll give you first hand truths.
Shane Micheal Gerlach
Punishment has won the war over rehabilitation—even I, your favorite bleeding-heart secular humanist prairie liberal, am prone to the macho lingo that proves Mr. Gerlach's point. I look at drunk drivers, drug dealers, et al. and speak of "giving them what they deserve."
But what do criminals... sinners... our fellow men and women deserve? Recall Hamlet's admonishment of Polonius, upon Polonius's statement that he will treat the visiting players according to their "desert":
God's bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?
Use them after your own honour and dignity: the less
they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty.
[William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2]
I'm torn here. I like to believe that hard work will straighten a criminal out better than any counseling. But I know some folks outside of prison who've worked hard all their lives and are nothing but hard, bitter people. And when the state relies on cheap inmate labor, there is always a danger of dependence on what some might call slavery (not to mention driving down wages in the non-criminal workforce).
I often don't respond well to recommendations for counseling... but that's my persistent prairie machismo again. Maybe folks who break the law, especially those depressed enough to self-medicate, could use more interaction with counselors, folks trained in psychology who are less interested in reminding the criminals of the mistakes they made and the dirt-scum treatment they "deserve" and more interested in helping convicts understand their weaknesses and build strategies to deal with them.
My Christian friends might argue that it takes courage to forgive... and even more courage to reach out and help. And remember, courage comes from the Latin word for heart. To address our growing prison population, we need to figure out where our hearts lie between punishment and rehabilitation.